Pell Grants for Prisoners?

Recently, President Obama announced that he will be pushing forward with a new way to impact the criminal justice system. America is no stranger to incarceration as we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Georgia has the fifth highest prison population in the nation. Unfortunately, we do not have many strong, effective systems in place to reintroduce these offenders back into society. A pilot program that would give some prisoners’ access to federal Pell Grants has been suggested. Prisoners previously had access to these grants but in 1994 congress banned this practice. Pell grants are limited to low-income students and do not require repayment. A student can get up to almost $6,000 to help finance their education. In addition to the grant, the administration is working with colleges to get classes set up for the inmates.

Some may argue that federal funding should not be allocated towards those who have broken the law. While I understand the hesitation, the statistics on repeat offenders do not lie. An estimated 68% of over 400,000 prisoners were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison and even more were arrested within five years according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the Georgia Center for Opportunity, 20,000 prisoners are released back into the Georgia community every year which leads to 2 out of 3 of those being rearrested within three years. Recidivism, relapsing into criminal behavior, is highest among inmates 24 or younger. The likelihood that these young people have had a quality education is slim. Some statistics state that more than 60% of inmates can barely read and write. Education has a direct impact on a persons’ risk of becoming a criminal and it plays a large role in whether or not a prisoner can survive in the real world after their release. Having a stable family, being able to find a job, education level, and his or her mental health after leaving prison all affect a prisoners’ success after incarceration. Not being able to survive outside of prison leaves many former inmates with few options. This leads to repeat offending, homelessness, mental illness, violence in the home and other economic issues.

Studies have shown that inmates who participate in prison education programs are less likely to return to prison, 43% less likely to be exact. Offering grants to inmates could be a great start to transforming our criminal justice system. We cannot expect people to actually change after incarceration with little to no help. Prisoners return to a world with little to no structure, an education that pales in comparison to their non criminal peers, families that have continued life without them and a job market that wants nothing to do with them. Offering them a substantial grant that could elevate their education level and give them a new life after incarceration could transform our entire society economically and socially. Education serves as not only a tool to lift oneself out of an unfortunate circumstance, access new opportunities, but also as a confidence builder. It has the ability to shape the mind, alter perspectives and propel individuals forward. Giving prisoners the opportunity to learn gives them a real second chance at life. We do prisoners and our overall society a disservice when we fail to give individuals the help they need to be constructive members of society. The purpose of incarceration should be to punish and reform. It seems as though we are only succeeding at half of the job.


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